Things that are going well in B.C.

There's a building boom in the southwest, employment is improving and B.C. is forecast to lead Canada in economic growth

In the early days of this new year, readers have advised me to do several things. I’ll go with one that seems relatively painless, embracing the “sunny ways” of our new federal government and seeking optimism in these fragile times.

For starters, we have a building boom going on in the southwest. Here in Victoria, cranes dot the skyline as new residential-commercial projects emerge from bedrock, and hardhats are mostly on construction workers, scratched and backwards, rather than shiny and forward on politicians.

Shipyards are busy, with Royal Canadian Navy work and cruise ship refits to reduce their emissions, plus work on ferries, tugboats and barges.

Most of the activity is private investment, much of it in a hot housing market. Surrey has just recorded its second-highest total for building permits in history, a value of $1.46 billion nearly matching the pre-recession peak of 2007.

Thousands of provincial employees get a small raise in February, based on stronger than forecast economic growth in 2014. It works out to $300 a year for a medical technologist and $346 for a teacher.

Health care costs are rising less dramatically. That should ease the crisis atmosphere at provincial and federal health ministers’ negotiations over the funding formula, taking place this week in Vancouver.

Health Minister Terry Lake announced last week that the province is increasing funding for a promising program in cancer research, using genetic analysis to improve targeting for drugs to treat the hundreds of different cancers diagnosed in B.C. patients each year.

The B.C. Cancer Agency’s new director, Dr. Malcolm Moore, oncologist Dr. Janessa Laskin and Dr. Marco Marra, director of the agency’s Genome Science Centre, described a world-leading centre of research that is reaching out to specialists and their patients across the province and attracting international funding and talent for ground-breaking research.

Outside the urban regions, where retail sales and real estate mainly drive the economy, sunny ways are harder to find. The mining and natural gas sectors are in the grip of a slump in commodity prices, with more temporary mine closures expected.

The forest industry is being helped by the low Canadian dollar and a steady recovery in the U.S. economy, and tourism is expected to have another strong year as Americans take advantage of a discount on visits to B.C.

Central 1 Credit Union broke down the regional employment numbers for B.C. in 2015, and found job growth in every region except the Cariboo. Province-wide employment grew 1.2 per cent last year, ahead of the national rate. That may not sound like much, but compared to Alberta’s oil-dependent economy, it’s pretty good.

Construction of a new dam on the Peace River is expected to ramp up this year, bringing workers home from Alberta, and the federal government is planning to fast-track its promised infrastructure spending to create work across the country.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett was in Toronto last week to ring the opening bell at the stock exchange with B.C. mining industry representatives.

Not much sun on mining stocks these days, but Bennett’s sales pitch to an investor luncheon included reference to two more mines under construction in northwest B.C., the province’s Pacific Rim trade advantage, and revenue sharing with First Nations that is attracting attention of other provinces.

The Conference Board of Canada has forecast that B.C.’s economy will “lead the country by a wide margin over the near term,” with unemployment declining in 2016.

We’re at the mercy of global forces, but things could be a whole lot worse.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

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